Strikeforce finally kicks off their heavily hyped grand prix this weekend with a main card that is nothing but heavyweights. After years of neglecting the division by not having the champion defend his title and giving a title shot to a guy coming off a loss, Strikeforce now has the MMA world talking about the best heavyweight tournament since YAMMA. While the entire tournament won’t take place this Saturday, this is still a card filled with really good heavyweights. There’s M-1 Global sponsored by the Russian mob, a Brazilian named A. Silva, King Leonidas, a Russian soldier, the current #1 contender to the TNA World Title, and the second best heavyweight named Overeem. Now if you aren’t into big guys because you feel that, while big people need love too but they have to pay, then you can just stare at Kelli Hutcherson all night.
Heavyweight Grand Prix Quarterfinal Fight: Antonio Silva vs. Fedor Emelianenko
After suffering the first legitimate loss in his career, Fedor Emelienenko looks to prove that he’s still one of the best heavyweights in the world. He starts his road back to the top against tough heavyweight Antonio Silva, who is looking for the biggest win of his career and one that could put an end to the Fedor mystique once and for all.
Silva has flown under the heavyweight radar for most of his career but now is his chance to shine. He’s a big and powerful striker who suffers from acromegaly, which causes an enlargement in his facial and body features. He uses a good stiff jab, which will be extremely key for him against Fedor. To go along with his jab he has a good right straight, which is his main counter punch, and he has some very deadly leg kicks. His biggest problem standing is his defense. He takes a solid punch but his large chin makes for an easy target. He specifically gets hit when an overhand right, which is what Mike Kyle dropped him with in his most recent fight. Recovers well but there is a huge difference in power between Kyle, a natural light heavyweight, and Fedor, one of the hardest hitters in the sport. Silva has a muay thai background and given his size, I expect him to work a lot in the clinch in this fight. Fedor is one of the best sambo practitioners in the world and he has some great throws and trip takedowns but he can be neutralized in the clinch, specifically against the cage. On the ground, Silva has excellent control when he’s on top and Fedor has never had great takedown defense. The one place Silva doesn’t want to be is on his back. While he is a jiu-jitsu black belt and Fedor’s one undisputed loss came by triangle choke, Silva has never shown the slickness off his back that Fabricio Werdum posses. The one thing Silva has going for him is the fact that he knows that Fedor is no longer unbeatable. Before the Werdum fight, everyone fighter who fought Fedor could say that they were mentally prepared and that they wouldn’t lose the fight before stepping in against him but I guarantee you that every single one of those fighters had that little bit of doubt. There should be no doubt in Silva’s head that he can’t beat Fedor because Fedor can and has been beaten. Silva needs to use his size and technical striking in this fight. Fedor throws loopy and wild punches and the best way to beat them is with a nice straight punch. Aside from straight punches, use leg kicks to take away some of the speed and power of Fedor. If things aren’t going well for him on the feet, push Fedor against the cage and wear him out. He’s going to have a significant size advantage in this fight given that he cuts to make 265 while Fedor comes in at a pudgy 230 or so. He needs to make Fedor carry his weight and just try grinding on him. On top of all that, Silva needs to use the cage to his advantage. Fedor can say he’s comfortable in the cage but he got caught in the triangle by Werdum thanks in large part to the cage and Brett Rogers had his most success against Fedor when they were against the cage. If Silva can stay away from the power of Fedor and avoid being on his back, he can win this fight. I’m not sure Silva can submit Fedor, even on top, unless he wears him out first but he could finish him with strikes or win a decision where he turns this fight into a rather boring one and just grinds things out.
Fedor is unquestionably one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport but there are a lot of doubts about him right now. He’s not a great technical striker but he hits so hard that he gets away with his style. He usually loads up on his right hand and then follows that up with a left hook. He eats a lot of straight punches but he has one of the best chins in MMA history. A lot of times his punches are just a way for him to get inside so he can clinch. Given his sambo background, he’s very skilled in the clinch and likes to use his quick hips to land throws and his craftiness to get trip takedowns. On top is where Fedor truly dominates. His ground and pound is deadly, even from inside his opponents guard. Even though he got caught against Werdum, he’s shown to have top notch submission defense over the years. If he’s not pounding away from the guard, chances are that he’s trying to set up a kimura, most likely on the left arm. Fedor is decent off his back but perhaps overrated given who he’s submitted. He likes to attack with an armbar but he doesn’t really set it up and it seems to me like it’s used more as a scramble initiation than actual submission attempt, he’s just been good enough it lock it on to less than stellar competition. The entire MMA world is wondering if he’s slipping. He was getting tagged up by Arlovski before a stupid flying knee, he showed a brief moment of weakness against Rogers when Rogers was pounding on him on the ground, and of course he finally suffered defeat against Werdum. You can look at Fedor’s loss at one of two ways. The first way is to conclude that he is slipping and he’s not the fighter that he once was. The second way is to conclude that a large weight is finally off his shoulders. The first fight back after a loss that was preceded by a great run is always the toughest to predict. Fedor has always come across as a mentally strong and relaxed fighter. Well this Saturday we’re going to find out for sure if that’s true. Silva is a very good fighter, perhaps even underrated by a lot of people, but if Fedor is still Fedor, he wins this fight and he does it by simply being himself. He throws his loopy punches with power, he gets inside and clinches, he puts Silva on his back, and he roughs him up on the ground. If he’s not himself though and he has lost a step, he allows Silva to control the pace. That’s always been Fedor’s biggest strength, his ability to control and dictate the pacing of the fight. He’s usually the one getting off first with his strikes and he’s usually the one who does the stalking. Unless that loss to Werdum completely screwed him up, that shouldn’t change in this fight. Fedor wins this fight if he can put one of his cinderblock fists on Silva’s big chin or prove that he hasn’t lost a step by simply dominating Silva on the ground.
I’ve always liked Silva and thought he’s been underrated by a lot of people. If Fedor truly is slipping, Silva is catching him at the right time. Even if he’s not slipping, Silva has the style to beat Fedor. That said I like Fedor in this fight because I think he comes out hungry and with something to prove. Silva is a pretty tough guy to finish but I think Fedor drops him at least once standing and then roughs him up on the ground for the majority of the fight en route to a statement-making decision.
Prediction: Fedor Emelianenko to defeat Antonio Silva by Decision
Heavyweight Grand Prix Quarterfinal Fight: Sergei Kharitonov vs. Andrei Arlovski
Andrei Arlovski tries once again to get back to his championship form against veteran Sergei Kharitonov, who hopes to make an impact in America after finding success in Japan throughout his career.
Kharitonov is almost like the forgotten heavyweight in this grand prix. He has victories over Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum and is a relatively well-rounded fighter. He’s a good striker, who competed, but didn’t fair too well in K-1, with plenty of power. He pumps a good jab and really loves his right uppercut as well as his knees. He likes to really get inside on his opponents and dirty box with uppercuts and body shots. He often attacks the body of his opponents, usually with a right straight or a left hook. He has a background in sambo, has a good sprawl, and can hold his own in the clinch. I give him a slight edge in the wrestling as Arlovski’s takedown defense is a bit suspect but I doubt we see too much ground work in this fight. Kharitonov has a solid top game but Arlovski has a good defensive guard and if Kharitonov happens to be on top, he can’t allow Arlovski to control his posture in order to get a stand up. Kharitonov’s skills have never really been questioned but his dedicated has. Prior to his Dynamite!! 2010 victory over Tatsuya Mizuno, he hadn’t fought in MMA in over a year. During that time he competed in K-1, where he didn’t seem to take things too serious and ended up losing two of his three contests. We’re going to know how serious Kharitonov is taking things when he shows up at weigh ins. If he’s in shape then he’ll be ready to throw down on Saturday. But if he shows up with his gut hanging over his shorts, he could be in for a short night on Saturday. Kharitonov will most likely want to keep this fight standing and test the questionable chin of Arlovski. Arlovski had a lot of trouble with the jab of Antonio Silva in his last fight and Kharitonov has a better jab than Silva. Look for Kharitonov to really use his jab and work the body of Arlovski. If he’s in trouble he may look to get things to the ground but desperation attempts won’t do him any good against Arlovski. Kharitonov has the power to put Arlovski’s lights out for the seventh time in his career or he could out-strike him and pick up a decision.
Despite a string of three straight losses, Arlovski remains one of the most popular heavyweights in MMA. He’s known for his outstanding boxing but in his last fight he was essentially out-struck by his opponent. He has fast hands, likes to double jab, throws a quick one-two and likes to use a quick inside leg kick, which is mainly a distance finder more than a damaging strike. He has a good counter right hand, which is what really put him on the map in his UFC run. He has a background in sambo so he can hold his own in the clinch and he’s well-versed in leg locks but he’s not much of a grappler. When he’s on top, he mainly likes to sit in guard and then drop back for a leg lock and when he’s on bottom, he tries to create a stalemate in order to force a stand up. The skill of Arlovski has never been questioned, it’s always been his chin and desire to compete in MMA. You can’t fix a weak chin unless you insert a steel plate or something and as far as I know, competing with a steel plate in your chin is illegal. His chin held up against Silva, a fact Arlovski was very proud of despite losing and getting out-struck, but it’s still a questionable chin. Arlovski is a very emotional fighter who seems to enjoy competing but obviously doesn’t enjoy losing. Granted no one likes losing, except losers who will always lose, but he’s a guy who takes loses very hard. One of the saddest moments I’ve ever seen in MMA is Arlovski slumped in the corner after being finished by Brett Rogers in just 22 seconds. In all his interviews leading up to this fight, he sounds like a man who is focused and hungry but most fighters who were once on top and have fallen on hard times sound focused and hungry. That doesn’t mean that he’ll be up to test come fight night. I’m sure his passion will be there but will his skills, and most importantly his chin, be there with him? Arlovski needs to use his speed in this fight and constantly move. Kharitonov isn’t the lightest guy in the world on his feet so if Arlovski can get in and out with his punches and throw leg kicks, we may see the fighter we fell in love with all those years ago. One thing Arlovski has to do is really commit to his punches and stay within him. Against Silva, he got caught playing Silva’s game and even looked a little gunshy on the feet. He didn’t want to commit strongly to his punches because he was afraid of eating that counter. This goes without saying but he can’t be afraid of Kharitonov. If Arlovski is on his game and using his speed, he could catch Kharitonov flush and put him out or he could win a decision.
This fight really depends on which Kharitonov shows up. If he’s not in great shape and he thinks he get by with just his power, Arlovski should win. But if he’s in shape and focused, he should win. I just don’t trust Arlovski’s chin against a powerful striker, especially one as good as Kharitonov. I think it’ll be a relatively even fight but sooner or later Kharitonov is going to catch Arlovski with a big strike and it’ll be “goodnight Irene” for ‘The Pitbull.’
Prediction: Sergei Kharitonov to defeat Andrei Arlovski by TKO in Round One
Heavyweight Grand Prix Reserve Fight: Lavar Johnson vs. Shane del Rosario
Top heavyweight prospects do battle as gunshot survivor Lavar Johnson takes on the undefeated Shane del Rosario.
Johnson has one of the best comeback stories in MMA and that’s helped him get to the point that he’s at now but this is the fight where we really see what he’s made of. He’s a powerful striker who hits really hard but he’s not very technical and his punches come pretty slow. He has a good jab but he gets himself into trouble when he tries to disguise his jab as a left hook. He doesn’t move his head and he’s often open for counter punches. His takedown defense isn’t terrible but it’s not great either. He likes to grab a guillotine in the clinch and he has a tight squeeze but he doesn’t know when to give up on it. Against Lolohea Mahe, he burned his arms out trying to go for a guillotine in the first round. Luckily for him, Mahe was in worse condition and he was able to still win the fight. Speaking of conditioning, Johnson’s is very questionable. He’s a muscular guy who puts everything into his punches so naturally he gets tired quicker than most. Given his power, I’m sure Johnson will want to keep things on the feet. Rosario is a very good technical striker but he’s a southpaw who throws a lot of kicks so he’s often open for a good counter straight right hand. If Johnson can land that straight right, it could be all she wrote for Rosario. Johnson will also need a fast start. Rosario seems to be a relatively slow starter and given Johnson’s questionable conditioning, he’ll need to put Rosario away as quick as possible. The only way I see Johnson winning this fight is by knockout or technical knockout. Maybe he’ll catch Rosario in a guillotine but I doubt Rosario will want this fight in close quarters and I don’t think he’ll have the conditioning to give 15 minutes to win a decision.
Rosario is one of the top heavyweight prospects in MMA and now he finally gets his chance on the Strikeforce big stage. He stands southpaw and is a very good striker. He’s light on his feet, gets in and out with his punches, and throws a lot of kicks. He does drop his hands when he kicks though and leaves himself open to a straight right but I’m not sure if Johnson has the speed to take advantage of that. He has a background in muay thai and throws some very good knees in the clinch. His takedown defense isn’t great but he’s very active off his back. His submission game isn’t all that great but the activity throws a lot of inexperienced fighters off. He mainly likes to go for triangles off his back but he does have a submission victory via omoplata. I doubt this fight goes to the ground though unless one fighter gets dropped. If Rosario is going to win, he needs to use his speed. He can’t afford to stand and slug it out with Johnson because for all his flaws, Johnson does have one punch power. Rosario needs to get in and out and use his kicks. He can use his kicks to not only take away some of the power of Johnson but he can also use his kicks to wear down Johnson and tire him out quicker. Rosario might even want to try a takedown or at least get into a clinch situation where he can use his knees to also wear down Johnson. A takedown wouldn’t be a bad idea though, as long as he sets it up, because Johnson doesn’t have a great game, he’s never shown anything off his back, and Rosario has some submission skills. Rosario can win this fight by overwhelming Johnson with strikes, possibly submitting him should this fight go to the ground, or win a comfortable decision by wearing out Johnson but not being able to finish him.
There is a lot of hype behind both of these guys but Rosario seems to have the brighter future of the two. Both fighters have benefitted from good match making but Rosario has looked stronger against his opponents. As long as Rosario avoids any wild exchanges, he should be able to pick apart Johnson and batter him with kicks on his way to a stoppage.
Prediction: Shane del Rosario to defeat Lavar Johnson by TKO in Round Two
Heavyweight Grand Prix Reserve Fight: Gianpiero Villante vs. Chad Griggs
Fresh off a big victory over Bobby Lashley, Chad Griggs looks to keep the momentum going against fast rising Gianpiero Villante.
I can’t find any full fight footage of Villante online but from everything I’ve heard about him, he’s someone that seems to have a bright future. Based on your usual, “I just checked his record” analysis, I’ve concluded that Villante hits really hard. People say his striking looks improved with every fight, which usually means that he’s not exactly a great striker but what he lacks in technique, he makes up for in power. He’s been wrestling since high school and has spent some time at Xtreme Couture so I expect him to have a wrestling advantage in this fight. Given his wrestling background and his power combined with Griggs lack of ground game, I’m sure Villante will want to put Griggs on his back. Villante is a natural light heavyweight but Griggs isn’t a massive heavyweight so while size may be a slight problem for Villante in this fight, it shouldn’t be enough to really make a difference in this fight. Expect Villante to try and make a statement in this fight. He’s fighting near his hometown, he’s on a big show, and this is a huge fight for him. He’ll probably want to put on a show with his striking early but if things aren’t going his way, hopefully he’ll be smart and composed enough to wrestle Griggs to the ground. On top, he should be able to dominate Griggs. Villante has the power to end this fight quickly, possibly finishes with a rear naked choke on the ground, or wins a dominating decision by simply out-classing Griggs in all areas.
Not much was known about Griggs prior to his last fight but since that fight he’s become a well-known name in MMA. No, not because he defeated a former pro wrestling superstar, but because we found out that he also plays the character known as ‘Starburns’ on the NBC show Community. Why he would choose getting punched in the face over working with Alison Brie all day is beyond me but if he ever needs someone to fill in, I’m available for you Ms. Brie. With my pipe dream out of the way, lets get back to Griggs. He’s a decent striker with a lot of power but that’s about it. One thing he does very well is that he makes his opponents pay for going for takedowns. Against Lashley, he caught him with a well-timed uppercut that opened up a nasty cut under Lashley’s eye and when he was able to stuff the takedown, he pounded on Lashley with elbows and hammerfists. On the ground, Griggs is good when he’s on top and able to rain down punches but he offers up nothing on his back. Lashley easily dominated Griggs on the ground, passing at will, and controlling him. Griggs is mainly a survivor on the ground but lets not forget that if there wasn’t a very dubious stand up when Lashley had Griggs mounted with 30 seconds left in the second round, I probably wouldn’t be typing about Griggs right now. Credit Griggs for taking advantage of that stand up and finishing Lashley off but there’s no doubt that he greatly benefitted from poor officiating. One knock on Griggs is that he’s not training full time and still works as a firefighter in Arizona. When you’re not training full time while others are, you fall behind. Griggs can get away with part-time training at the level he’s at but if he wants to make it to the next level, he has to focus 100% on MMA. I expect Griggs to want to stand and bang with Villante but I do believe that he’ll try mix in takedowns simply because when he’s on top is when he’s at his most danergous. Griggs should also look to use his size as well. While he’s not a huge heavyweight, Villante is a natural light heavyweight so Griggs should have a size advantage. Griggs could finish Villante with strikes or win a decision if he’s content on just grinding him out in the clinch and possibly on the ground.
I don’t expect this fight to go very long but while it lasts, I favor Villante. He should be quicker on his feet and his wrestling should pay dividends. If Griggs can’t catch Villante with an uppercut or sprawl and make him pay, he’s going to end up on his with Villante pounding away on him.
Predicted: Gianpiero Villante to defeat Chad Griggs by TKO in Round One
Heavyweight Grand Prix Reserve Fight: Ray Sefo vs. Valentijn Overeem
K-1 kickboxing veteran Ray Sefo tries his hand at MMA for only the third time in his career against Valentijn Overeem, the older but less accomplished brother of Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem.
Sefo might not be as accomplished in MMA as his opponent but the man is a K-1 legend. He’s obviously an excellent striker. He throws very heavy leg kicks, likes to use a left hook-right straight-leg kick combo and a jab-uppercut combo. He also throws a sneaky but effective switch right hand. Sefo has been training at Xtreme Couture but from what I gather, he’s more of a striking mentor than a guy who trains the all-around aspects of MMA. His takedown defense is probably better than most will give him credit for, thanks in large part to his quick hips, but he’s a fish out of water on his back. If there’s one thing Sefo does well on the ground, it’s surviving. He seems to have enough submission defense to get by on the ground and he covers up well when his opponent is raining down strikes. Sefo’s biggest advantage in this fight will be his conditioning. Being at Xtreme Couture and helping out as often as he does, he keeps himself in relatively good fight shape even if he’s not training for a fight. He went nine hard minutes against Tyrone Spong on one weeks notice and while he lost the fight mainly due to his conditioning, it’s not like he gassed out to the point of embarrassment. Sefo needs to survive the inevitable early flurry by Overeem and then let his conditioning take over. If he doesn’t feel like playing a patient game because he feels that Overeem could catch him and end the fight, he needs to put punches in Overeem’s face and make him uncomfortable. The biggest feather in Sefo’s cap would be if he could stuff an early takedown, should Overeem attempt one, because that will not only frustrate Overeem but it will tire him. If Sefo is going to win this fight, it’ll be by some form of TKO. He’ not likely to attempt any submissions and Overeem will lose due to exhaustion before this fight goes to the judges.
Before there was ‘The Demolition Man’ there was ‘The Python.’ And before there was the best striker in MMA and a two-sport champion there was his mediocre older brother. Overeem has the talent to be a successful MMA fighter. Like his little brother, he appears to be a fan of the horsemeat and he’s an explosive and powerful striker. He throws good feints, gets guys biting, and leaps in with a knee. Every strike he throws is with bad intentions. He has a good submission game, especially his guillotine choke but it’s also a spotty submission game. If you need prove of how inconsistent he can be on the ground, think about this: He holds submission victories over Renato Sobral and Randy Couture but 15 of his 25 losses have been by submission and he’s been submitted by Gilbert Yvel. Overeem’s problems have never been skill related. His biggest problems have always been his conditioning and commitment. Being as muscular as he is, he’s going to gas quicker than most fighters but when you factor in his muscle mass combined with less than 100% training, it leads to some very quick performance issues, something no man wants to have. Another problem with Overeem is that he doesn’t respond well when pressured. If Sefo can stay in his face or even survive a couple of powerful strikes, Overeem will begin to fade. I’m sure Overeem will want to end this fight quickly because the longer it goes, the more it favors Sefo. If Overeem really wanted to, he could probably put Sefo on his back and make quick work of him with a submission but knowing Overeem, he’ll be more likely to look for the quick knockout. If he can catch Sefo clean and early, Overeem will be able to put him away or Overeem could win this fight by submission if he can get Sefo down. Due to his lack of conditioning, I doubt Overeem will be able to win a decision.
This fight will be over within the first minute, even if it lasts for another five. Either Overeem wins in quick and violent fashion or Overeem gasses and Sefo out-strikes him until the ref decides that Overeem has had enough. I’m leaning towards Sefo just because I don’t question his mental toughness. I think he survives or avoids the early flurry and then dominates on his way to a late round stoppage.
Prediction: Ray Sefo to defeat Valentijn Overeem by TKO in Round One
If everything goes right, this should a night filled with finishes. No matter what, the promotion behind this event and the heavyweight grand prix is easily the best Strikeforce has ever done. It took them a couple of years but Strikeforce finally has the MMA world, and even Dana White, talking positively about them. I’m personally very excited for not only this Saturday night but also the tournament in general. If things go off without a hitch, this tournament will determine who is one of the two best heavyweights in the world and if you really care about rankings, which I don’t, then for you it may determine who the best heavyweight in the world is. Enjoy the fights folks and get ready for The After Party.